Can a person be both competent and incompetent, arrogant and humble? Within their lifetime, certainly. Within a career, definitely. Within a single work? How about in a single blog post? Well, watch me go, as I "swallow the dilemma" and attempt to be everything that I love and hate about both myself and my haters.
In this interview I catch up with Matt Finney of Finneyerkes, from Alabama. This delightfully understated band has brought the 'ambient' label into a whole new sense. Matt supplies intense spoken word poetry over Randy Yerkes' instrumentation- but take note. In my head I had their names mixed up, and because I am an idiot, I thought I was going to be talking to the person behind all the music. It was definitely for the best, as Matt is a great guy with a lot of interesting things to say. Plus it seems that Randy is the secretive one, and an interview with him might have read like me interrogating Golgo 13. On with the interview!!!
Word up yo.
No diggity, no doubt.
Okay, well think of this as more Tape Op than Pitchfork.
Hope I can be informative. Not too technical but I'm down. Love Tape Op though, had a subscription for about a year
Well just in approach. Don't worry, I'm not a gearhead myself, I'm always breaking shit.
I can't play anything… I dabble around with a xylophone sometimes. I played it on "Cobain" and I did the opening keys on "Honeymoon"...that's it for me.
Wait, is this right interview.... ;)
Haha… I played some acoustic on "Keely" but I'm the tragic poet or whatever. :p
Seriously? I feel like a retard. Who didn't research.
What's the dealio?
I don't give a fuck. The interview is on!
So I don't know if you have picked up on this, but I am kind of the dick of the blog.
Nah man....you seem pretty cool. I'm an asshole most of the time as well....get the "you're a dick" thing a lot.
Well, I have a sort of 'critical persona' that is just a rarefied version of who I actually am.
Feel you on that as well.
I'm actually trying to be very transparent about what it means to be a critic. And what it means to be me.
As you should be. You have to be honest even if that honesty hurts. It's nice to see a critic that doesn't pull any punches.
Right. Unfortunately what the readers- well, the vocal comment leavers- don't get through their thick skulls is that at least for me, trying to do so isn't just painful for the target, but also for the critic. If he is even remotely introspective.
Yeah. It's hard. You don't want to be an asshole. Who does? You're just stating your opinion and what you think. It's only an opinion but unfortunately people put a lot into the words. If you like it, that's cool but it doesn't mean I have to like it...ya know.
Sigh. So what I am going to do- and specifically to this interview is expound upon the fact that I completely was distracted over the past few days and did not keep track of who was who in the Finneyerkes. I totally thought you were the music dude. I actually was like "He does all this music and has a book coming out and does a column? Fuck!"
Envy has always been a sore point for me.
That's all me man....I write the lyrics, I have a book out, and I write a column/do reviews at Sonic Frontiers. Randy (the music guy) kinda shys away from interviews and stuff. He's the coolest guy I've ever met but he just likes to make music and that's it. He leaves this kinda stuff up to me. Haha… It isn't that bad, man. I won't be able to talk guitar with you but we're both in on the songwriting and we talk about how we want things to sound so maybe I can help or provide some insight....either way, I'm enjoying talking to you so far
Me too. So before I bleed out from terminal embarassment... Let me start with the obvious (to me at least) question. Why spoken word on top of ambient?
Because I can't sing. My voice is really horrible, singing wise. I only do it in private and that's rare. We also thought it would be cool to make this "soundtrack" music. I write these poems that are about me and people I know and Randy puts music to it. Makes the journey complete. A movie for head, I guess.
So you guys decided to be a unit before the music was official.
Yeah. We joked around about it on AIM and whatnot. Randy didn't start reading anything I wrote until he moved away and he told me that he really liked the lyrics a lot. He told me to record some of them and he would put them on his first solo record Glada. those songs from that album ended up on our first album Gather and Sing. We put together a bunch of stuff and came up with FY (because we couldn't think of a better name hah).
Well, it's better than a 'The Xs' or 'Incredibly Long Band Name For One Dude Who Bleeps And Yodels Interminably.'
Exactly! We wanted something that we wouldn't think was stupid in 5 years, ya know. Like Dance Gavin Dance.
God, that would have been stupid in like 5 minutes.
Seriously. And what the fuck does it have to do with anything?
"Who's Gavin? "
That's what I'm saying! At least Jimmy Eat World has a Jimmy
And any attempt at humor based around Gavin would be fatally pretentious.
Yeah. It's a douchebag name. I dunno. I tend to stay away from bands that have names like that. I can usually tell from a band name if I'm gonna like it or not
The human brain is funny like that.
You have to be convinced otherwise. Makes you wonder what deep-seated evolutionary selection pressure is behind shitty band-name avoidance?
It's like people aren't even trying anymore.
And it shows in the music. So, enough kvetching. A lot of music is made under a certain rubric, whether the creators know it or not- you know, no synths dammit! or 'autotune on all vocals', that sort of thing. Do you kids have a guiding way of doing things? You know, all analog, all 'in the box'?
We've always ruled out autotune. Haha. But not really. After we make a record we like to sit down and talk about what we've done. How the music sounded, the lyrics, the vocals, the themes and then we like to talk about where we're gonna go from there. what we can expand on.
I'm not ruling out a remix where I autotune your poetry a la "Glorious Dawn."
Haha....I'd love to hear that! Our main thing is trying to push ourselves as musicians. That's the only real rule we have: to change things up, to do something different. We both get bored easily so with every album you're gonna hear something different.
I love the fact that you categorize yourself as a musician. A lot of people would like to see beatmakers, djs, rappers, musique concrete artistes, lyrical poets, etc. as not being part of the musical family.
It's all included. I hate calling myself a poet because it's just so lame. It's so whiney. I feel kinda cool calling myself a musician.
Eh, I don't know. Two words: James Douglas Morrison.
Man....I hate Jim Morrison.
But seriously though, fuck you.
Haha. He's lame, dude.
In what way?
In that sleazy "I'm gonna write vague lyrics and try to sleep with a lot of women because I'm so brooding" kinda way. I might take that back....it's what I'm doing, for the most part.
Hey, I take issue with your assessment. It's more like "Write vague lyrics and SUCCEED at boning at hell of a lot of women because I'm so brooding"
Haha. Just not my thing. Never been a fan.
I like Robert Bly too, so what the fuck do I know. What are some poetic influences you DO have?
I don't read a whole lot of poetry. My two favorite authors are Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy. I take a lot from those two. The brevity, getting to the bone as quick as you can.
Raymond Carver is why I didn't go to college. Okay, sort of.
That's awesome, man.
I took one term, I majored in 'Fire science.' But I really wanted to be some sort of, I don't know, fireman poet. Anyhoo, I badgered my way into an advance writing course with this douche professor who was OBSESSED with Carver. At the end of the course he told me I wasn't a very good writer and basically shouldn't keep at it.
What a dick. Glad you kept at it. You seem like you know your way around a pen.
My response was "Wait, who's the community college writing teacher in this exchange?"
Or something like that.
I took a creative writing class in high school. That was it.
I loved it. Sitting in front of a computer wikipedia-ing stuff while working on the assignment… the good old days.
Oh jeez, you just dated me. How old are you?
At that pathetic age?
Haha. I meant me at that pathetic age. Nothing wrong with the thirties. At least you've had to learn something over the years.
Let's see, where the hell was I... Oh, I was going to come back to influences, music this time. My first thought when I listened to you guys was Basinski. Familiar?
I've heard of him. I've listened to one song and I enjoyed it. He's just one of those artists that I always forgot to check out thoroughly. Heard a lot of great things though.
“The Disintegration Loops” have this amazing otherwordly… wabi sabi ??!!!??! And that is what reminded me of him.
That's the album I've heard a billion great things about. I'll definitely have to download it.
It's worth it. Oh so worth it Are you privy to Randy's reverb secrets? How he buries the sound?
It's going on the list. He's a fuzz man… loves his fuzz pedal. It really came into the picture a lot more on our new album.
I definitely heard that on the bass. And it seemed like there was a lot of volume pedal swells, really expressive stuff.
I suppose the point of my question, even if I can't steal the actual secret, is to highlight the fact that all the sounds live in this different world. Which since you mentioned you went for a soundtrack thing before, I assume is an intentional direction. I think for an ambient band to not bore, to include real instruments and poetry that doesn't stumble over itself or the music, and to pull at the senses differently than other music, that's a major coup.
Thanks. We definitely don't want to bore anyone. I like long songs but the reason why we cut them down so short to 3-5 minute time ranges is to keep everyone's attention. We don't want to put you to sleep before the album is finished but we don't want to be overly abrasive either and just blare it all at you.
Barry Adamson is one of my favorite artists, and early in his career he had a very similar approach, making 'soundtracks to imaginary films.'
Never heard of him before. Sounds like it would be interesting
He was in Magazine, and was Nick Cave's bass player for a while. I think it's an effective framing device. Is there an overarching mythology or any leitmotif (non musical, ha) that runs through the work?
There's a lot of space in our songs. Randy has always given the listener a lot of room to float around in and that carries over into almost all of our songs. There's a really lonely feel to it as well. Something about the guitar riffs he plays puts me in a very lonely place.
Which is perfect. And there is nothing wrong with that. That's why people go to Joy Division concerts. To be lonely together.
Haha, you ass.
Okay, I gotta wrap this up because I could bullshit with you all day.
The "Elsie" video. That's something I have wanted to do with my music for a while but haven't managed to. But great job. What went into that?
Our buddy Nick Wine (one of the owners of our label T$S) did all of that. He came up with the idea and just went for it. Didn't even ask. He said he felt something in the song and he wanted to bring it to life for everyone. I was blown away the first time I saw it. I don't know a whole lot of details about it but I know he used construction paper for the background and characters....he took his time and made it perfect and it shows when you watch it. It's a very druglike video. It pulls you in and keeps you there, which isn't an easy task considering the song is 7 minutes.
Wow. Yeah, it's fucking amazing.
Thanks a lot brother. We're both extremely proud of it. Wine's a great guy. He's helped us out a lot from putting out our albums to mixing them and whatnot.
My daughter Amelia is 18 months old, she saw me watching and joined in. She was fascinated and was pointing at the little astronomer ghost and shit. She's an ambient musician too.
Haha, send her demo to T$S. Glad she enjoyed it. You know you're onto something when you can hold a kid's attention.
So, to cap this thing off, what do you have coming up next?
Matt: Our 4th album, “Approaching”. We're hoping to wrap it up by next month. 3 songs are left and it will be out for free download like the rest.
Awesome. Well my man- this has been great.
Take it easy dude!